Cal Poly Students Win Awards at 2018 WERC Competition

April 30, 2018

 Cal Poly students create projects that tackle environmental concerns and win awards at annual WERC competition.

13 Cal Poly students participated in the 28th annual WERC competition at New Mexico State University from April 8-11th and received two awards. The WERC Environmental Design Contest is a competition that brings industry, government, and academia together in search for improved solutions to environmental and sustainability-related challenges.

Two of the three Cal Poly student-led teams won awards in their respective categories. The International Space Station team created a system to remove methanol and ethanol from water and won 2nd place in their combined category and first place in their specific task. The urine treatment team created a method of treating urine on military bases and won the EPA Pollution Prevention award.

Many of the students participating use the tasks as senior projects but Cal Poly is one of a few schools that sends students from various grade levels.

“The caliber of competition demands a lot from our students and helps younger students develop senior-level skills,” said Andrew Kaneda, Environmental Engineering graduate student.

A total of 16 students worked in teams to conduct research, test and build solutions for their tasks. Students learn to create plans for full-scale implementation that also take into consideration economic impacts.  

“Every project is like your kid. You feel attached to them. Everyone who participates in this competition has a strong sense of pride. A lot of it is developing skills, keeping a schedule, and getting the project done,” said Andrew.

This year, the Cal Poly teams participated in three projects:

International Space Station Team (Participating students: Michael Reyna, Daniel Garcia, Gavrielle Orman, Hayley Aarsvold, Enrique Molina)

Students were tasked with creating a system to remove persistent contaminants in the water stream aboard the International Space Station (ISS). In the current treatment system, methanol and ethanol accumulates in the water supply and requires an efficient way to remove these contaminates. Cal Poly students researched current methods used to removes these contaminates and found research done by a Japanese university that used a polypropylene sponge. Students experimented with the sponge and found that it can be used to remove ethanol and methanol from the water stream. This team received 2nd place in their combined category and 1st place in their specific project.

Direct Potable Reuse Team (Participating students: Aaron Morland, Madeleine White, Kirsten Heerding, Joey Velasquez, Moses Kempthorne)

Students were tasked with creating a Direct Potable Reuse (DPR) system to improve water access for a town of 500 people. The team created an innovative system that included treating water then transporting into a body of water that would be sent to a treatment plant. Students were also responsible for developing a community outreach plan to educate the community about the safety of the water treatment system.

Urine Treatment Team (Participating students: Cindy Sevilla Esparza, Paige Alford, Reid Shipley, Jodie Yu, Charley Liscomb , Emely Coreas)

Students were tasked with creating a compact, low-energy, and low-cost solution to treat urine on a military base disconnected from basic utilities. The team created a 3-step treatment process to remove phosphorus and nitrogen. Their solution avoided the traditional way of flushing water and separating waste because of the high cost of transporting water to and from the base. This team won the EPA pollution prevention award.